Why get rid of late fines?

Late fines are not effective. Other Library systems have stopped charging late fines and shown that this has no impact on return rates. Getting rid of late fines can even increase use of Library materials.

It’s good for our community. Late fines prevent people who cannot afford them from using the Library in the first place.

Fines are not predictable revenue. With more people using digital materials like e-books, we can no longer count on late fines to help cover costs.

What it means for you:

  • You will no longer be charged a daily fine for overdue items. As always, digital materials are checked in automatically with no late fines.
  • We will clear any late fines you currently owe from your account. You may still owe other Library fees, including lost item charges.
  • You can now renew items up to three times if no one else is waiting.
  • You are still responsible for returning your items on time. We do want all items back, and other people may be waiting. We will temporarily suspend your Library account if items are not returned 14 days after their due dates. When your account is suspended you cannot check out physical materials like books or DVDs or access some of our digital services until your overdue items are returned.
  • We consider items overdue by one month or more to be lost, and will bill you for the replacement cost.
  • Once you return an overdue item or pay for its replacement cost, your account will be reinstated and no fines will be charged
  • If you owe $25 or more for 30 days, we will charge you a non-refundable $10 fee and refer your account to an outside agency for recovery. If you are unable to return overdue items or pay your balance, please contact us to discuss your options.
  • To help you remember to return items on time, we send reminders by email, text and phone. You can customize your reminders and choose how you want to receive them.

How No More Late Fines Affects You

What happens if I don’t return Library materials?

We still want Library items back! If you keep an item 14 days past its due date, we will temporarily suspend your Library account. That means you won’t be able to check out more items or use some of our digital media services until your late materials are returned.

If an item is not returned one month after the due date, we will charge you for the cost to replace it. If you owe $25 or more for 30 days, we will charge you a non-refundable $10 fee and refer your account to an outside agency for collection.

What should I do if I want to keep something past its due date?

You can renew items up to three times if no one else is waiting. Please renew items you want to keep past their due date to avoid temporary account suspension and lost item fees. Log in to your account to renew items online. Items can’t be renewed if other people are waiting. Please return items that you can’t renew and place a new hold to check them out again.

What happens to late fines I owed before 2020?

We are clearing all late fines owed as of Jan. 1, 2020. We hope you will come use the Library again if you owed late fines in the past! You may still owe other Library fees, which include charges for lost or damaged items.

What should I do with very overdue Library materials I still have?

Please bring it back! Even if an item has been sitting on your shelf for years, return it and you can use the Library again with no late fines. If you have already paid for a lost item and you bring it back within a year of payment, we will clear the charge.

What can you do to help me keep track of due dates?

We send account notifications by email, text and/ or phone. If we have your email address, we will email you a reminder before items are due. You can choose to get notifications by email, text or phone. 

Can you text me reminders?

Yes! To sign up for text reminders, send SIGNUP to 844-406-2149. You will need your Library barcode and PIN.

I like paying my fines — I think of it as my donation to the Library. Can I still donate?

Yes! You can still make donations to The Seattle Public Library Foundation. Your donation will support critical Library programs and services.

What is the timeline for the change?

We no longer charge late fines as of Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. On that date, we will also clear any late fines you currently owe from your account. You may still owe other Library fees, including lost-item charges.

How No More Late Fines Affects the Library

Why eliminate late fines?

Late fines discourage people who can’t afford them from using the Library, and we want everyone in our community to have equitable access to our programs, services and collections. Other library systems have proven that small fines have no impact on return rates. Eliminating fines creates a more equitable and just Library, and ensures that your access to the Library is not based on your ability to pay. Our own research has shown that these financial penalties disproportionately impacted youth and families, and led to much lower rates of Library use in Seattle’s lower-opportunity neighborhoods. More than 50 library systems across the nation have recently eliminated late fines, with consistently positive results for their communities.

What are the goals for this change?

By eliminating late fines, we expect to see more people using our collections, fewer people with access limited because of overdue materials, and similar or improved rates of return of Library materials.

How will you know if the goals are achieved?

We will be tracking the impacts of this change on library use, suspended accounts, return rates, and overall availability of the collection, and will consider making additional changes to our procedures if we’re not seeing the intended results.

Without fines, won’t people just keep Library materials forever?

It’s a common misconception that overdue fines encourage people to return their Library materials on time. The reality is that most patrons return their materials on time because they know it’s the right thing to do! Patrons who borrow materials from the Library understand that the Library is about sharing resources, and they care about returning their materials so other people can use them.

Other libraries that have eliminated late fines have seen increased library use and no change in return rates. We have every reason to believe that Seattle patrons will continue to be conscientious and responsible.

While we believe that eliminating late fines will have little impact on return rates, anyone who does keep an item for more than two weeks past its due date will have their account suspended until the late item is returned, and anyone who keeps an item for more than one month past its due date will be charged for the replacement cost.

How will eliminating late fines impact the Library’s budget?

Late fines did provide some revenue to support our basic operations. However, with the growing popularity of electronic materials – which don’t incur fines – the amount we were collecting had been in decline. In order to stop charging late fines, we needed to establish funding from another source. The 2019 Library Levy includes funds to make up for the loss of revenue from late fines.